Date: Wed, 13 Dec 1995 12:48:34 -0800

From: Dan Moonhawk Alford dalford[AT SYMBOL GOES HERE]S1.CSUHAYWARD.EDU

Subject: Re: non-linguistic thinking

On Mon, 11 Dec 1995, Donald M. Lance wrote:

If we thought in language, how would we learn language? Simple as that!

How in anyone's imagination could Helen Keller have caught on when her

caretaker spelled out 'water' if Helen had to already have language in

order to think?

Boy, it looks like such a tautology when 'language' and 'human language'

are taken to mean exactly the same thing! Which is, of course, what most

linguists do when they talk about language.

That is, even if there's some evolutionary communicating base that we're

a part of, which gives us intelligence to the level of dogs or chimps

(which is not to be sneezed at!), we refuse to call it language, and

therefore 'whatever it is' cannot be pulled in to an answer about what

Helen Keller had that allowed her to learn (the systems of human) language.

Then, if course, there's that monolithic noun 'language' itself -- a

problem Dan Slobin pointed out in his "Thinking for Speaking" article.

That is, dealing with static nouns like 'language' and 'thought' can

drive you crazy (perhaps because they're really processes and not

things?), so you change to the more gerundy forms and then you can say

with confidence that ONE kind of thinking is called "thinking for

speaking", the kind of thinking you do when you are figuratively

'on-line' figuring out what to say while you are saying it -- and in that

case it is also clear that the structure of the language highly shapes

the thinking that is going on at the time.

So perhaps Ms. Keller was already thinking in other ways, and the

'thinking for speaking' kind of thinking was added to her repertoire with

her discovery of 'water'.